Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
When I think of palms, I always think tropical. But not all palms are tropical plants. The European fan palm can withstand freezing temperatures so you can use it to give your yard tropical flair.
What are European Fan Palms?
European fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) is actually a shrub palm. It is a multi-stemmed plant that grows from an underground rhizome. It is native to southwestern Europe and the Mediterranean.
The plants are very slow growing with multiple stems. Each stem is 8 inches in diameter. The palms can grow 8 - 15 feet tall and 6 – 10 feet wide. The leaves grow in the shape of rounded fans. The fans can be 5 feet in length. Each fan is comprised of leaflets that are 20 to 30 inches long. The petioles, or stems that join the leaves to the plant, have sharp spines to protect them from grazing animals.
The flowers are bright yellow and either male or female. Each palm has only male flowers or only female flowers. You may not see the flowers because they grow very inconspicuously at the tops of the stems. Bloom time is the spring, April and May.
The flowers depend on both insects and the wind to move their pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. Pollinators are attracted to the flowers by scent that is released by the leaves rather than the flowers.
How to Grow European Fan Palms Outdoors
European fan palms are hardy in zones 8 – 11. In those zones, the plants can be grown outdoors. Plant them in full sun to partial shade. At a minimum, they need 4 – 6 hours of direct sun each day. They also need soil that is well-drained with a pH of 6.1 – 7.8.
Newly planted palms should be watered regularly for up to a year. Allow them to dry out between waterings. Once they are established, these palms are drought tolerant.
Apply a slow release fertilizer especially formulated for palms in the spring.
If you are growing more than one, space your palms 3 – 4 feet apart and 3 – 4 feet away from your home. Plant in the areas that are not close to high traffic areas such as sidewalks and driveways. The sharp spines on the stems and leaves can be very painful if you brush against them.
How to Grow European Fan Palms Indoors
European fan palms are very slow growing so they are well-suited to growing in containers. That’s good news for those of us who live north of zone 8. With a little care, we can grow them indoors as houseplants. Grow them in a sunny room and allow them to dry out between waterings. Add a slow release fertilizer in the spring if your potting mix does not already contain one. Most potting soils these days contain slow release fertilizer already. Thanks to their slow growth habit, you will only need to repot these palms every 2 – 3 years.
You can move your palm outdoors in the spring after your last frost. Bring it back indoors in the fall before the first frost.
How to Divide a European Fan Palm
European fan palms grow from a rhizome. Those rhizomes send out what are called suckers. A sucker a new plant that has grown from an underground rhizome that has spread. Suckers are usually removed immediately because they “suck” away nutrients from the main plant.
The rhizomes of fan palms will produce suckers. Instead of throwing them away, you can use them to propagate your plant. Take a garden spade and use it to sever the sucker from the parent plant. Gently dig up the sucker. It should have started to develop its own root system. You can replant your sucker either in its own pot or outdoors if your climate is warm enough, making sure that it is 3 – 4 feet away from the parent plant and any other existing palms. You could also gift the sucker to a gardening friend for their home or yard.
How to Grow European Fan Palms From Seed
You can grow European fan palms from seed if you are patient. Start your seeds in the spring after your last frost either outdoors in zone 8 or higher or indoors. Before planting, soak the seeds overnight to soften the hard seed coat. Plant them ¼ inch deep and keep moist. It will take 2 to 3 weeks for them to germinate.
© 2020 Caren White